The immediate post-war British restaurant scene was all about making the simple into something special. Egg mayonnaise, was exactly that. These are halves of soft-centred egg smothered over with a loosened mayonnaise and seasoned with cayenne pepper. An anchovy garnish was rare, but provided a much-needed savoury boost to this gently flavoured dish.
Over a short period of time, egg mayonnaise made its way from the restaurant to the dinner party, where it was often served as a canapé, along with devilled this and that.
The fact that the original dish was always served with buttered brown bread leads me to imagine that the carefully presented starter given here is possibly the forerunner to the classic egg mayonnaise sandwich that graces Tesco lunch gondolas, and grosses out sensitive-nosed schoolboys on the rugby bus.
The recipe given below (after Simon Hopkinson and Lindesay Bareham) provides the latitude to use shop-bought mayonnaise, but making it is more fun, and you can find the method for that here.
- 4 eggs
- 6 tbsp mayonnaise
- A drizzle of warm water
- 4 pinches Cayenne pepper
- 8 anchovy fillets
- 8 leaves of gem lettuce
Bring a pan of water to the boil, prick the wide end of the eggs with a pin and boil them for 7 minutes. Run the pan under a cold tap to rapidly cool the egg and avoid a sulphur ring. Gently peel the eggs and halve them with a sharp knife.
While the eggs are cooking let the mayonnaise down (make it runnier) with a small amount of warm water until it will just coat a spoon and only very slowly drip. They aim is to coat the eggs with the mayo without much run off.
Arrange the lettuce leaves on the plates. Place a half of egg cut side down on the leaves and smother the eggs with the loosened mayonnaise. Sprinkle over with Cayenne pepper and garnish the the anchovies.
Serve with some buttered brown bread.